by Ellis Peters (pen name for Edith Pargeter)
Whoops, I apparently forgot to take a picture of this one!
It has been several years since I have read the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I am so excited about reading them again! They are some of my favorite mysteries of all time, and if you have never read them, I can’t recommend them highly enough!
These mysteries are set in England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud in the early 1100′s, at a Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury, a town very close to the border with Wales. Brother Cadfael is a monk in his late 50′s or early 60′s who came to the monastery later in life; his younger life was spent fighting in the Crusades and having adventures of all kinds. But now he is well and comfortably settled into his quiet life, content with his vows and the rhythm of life within the monastery. As he says, he is like a ship come to rest in a peaceful harbor, and glad to reach it. His focus now is the herb gardens and the medicines and such that they produce. As such, he is almost an apothecary, helping to care for the minor illnesses and ailments of the residents within the monastery, and also within the town of Shrewsbury. Cadfael is also Welsh by birth, and, living so close to the border, is often called upon as a translator.
It is in this role that he ends up traveling with a small deputation of brothers into Wales to retrieve the bones of a minor saint. Prior Robert has been determined for some months to bring glory to their house by means of a saint’s remains, and he has found one at last. However, not everyone in Gwytherin is willing to part with their beloved local saint.
I will not try to describe the plot here. You simply should read this book. And then I think that you will want to read the next nineteen books as well, because they are equally well-written and delightful. They are good mysteries, yes, but they are also simply brilliant books. Peters is known for her in-depth research and historical accuracy, but I more admire her for her ability to so perfectly capture human nature. We all have good and evil struggling within us, and she beautifully records that. Brother Cadfael himself is delightfully human, but also delightfully wise and insightful; I love reading this book wherein the hero is a man well past his first youth, who replaces youthful zeal and enthusiasm with tempered wisdom and thoughtfulness.
Every single one of these books has the perfect ending. I get to the end and heave a deep sigh of completely contentment, for all is as it should be. The series itself progresses through time and reintroduces characters; these books really must be read in order. Thankfully, Peters was able to complete the final book before her death in 1995 (Brother Cadfael’s Penance was published in 1994), and it, too, is perfect.